Every industry has its “go-to” guy. Whenever we talk about a moon shot, Walter Cronkite is called on to comment. When it’s a matter of international relations, it’s Henry Kissinger (though of late, retired newsman Dan Rather is frequently sought for an opinion).
The retail photo processing industry has its own spokesman of sorts. Maybe not with quite the global stature of the aforementioned, but without the grey hair. It seems as though when there’s a newspaper or magazine article having to do with on-site processing, chances are you’ll see him being quoted as an industry spokesman.
Our industry go-to is Mitch Goldstone. His name pops up in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, LA Times, wire services, magazines, and other media. When there’s a hot topic, Mitch gets called. Sometimes he initiates the call to express his opinion—of which he has many. Then there are Mitch’s somewhat quixotic pursuits, like the current one in which he is the lead complainant in a multibillion-dollar suit against Visa, MasterCard, and some large banks. The entire retail world, including the U.S. government (which has a $100 million stake in the suit), hopes he succeeds.
But putting all the high visibility aside, which can be both fun and ego-satisfying, Mitch is, first and foremost, a highly successful minilab operator, and second, an entrepreneur who promotes himself, his business, and the industry 24/7. He talks the talk, but he also walks the walk.
From One-Hour Minilab to Nationwide Online Boutique Photo Service
Mitch is the co-founder (along with Carl Berman) and president of 30 Minute Photos Etc. in Irvine, CA, a business that started out as a one-hour lab in 1990 when on-site was at its height and it looked as though the concept would endure far into the future. That’s when the only definition of digital involved fingers and toes. It was a typical lab filled with albums and frames, gadgets, film, and processing equipment. There are still some owners that have hung in with that business model, but most that did have long since locked the doors.
Today 30 Minute Photos Etc. bears little resemblance to the “typical” lab operation. The world changed, our industry changed, and 30 Minute Photos Etc. changed. Mitch and Carl have transformed the business from the early ’90s to what may well be the leading edge of a new generation of retail photo processors. Their transition could be a model for others.
Gone are the albums and frames. “All we did was dust them.” The staff of six people (“I was working for them”) is down to three: Mitch, Carl, and Bryan Robinson, whose business card reads: Head Muckity-Muck, Digital Artist Extrodinaire (that’s his spelling, not mine).
This transition didn’t happen overnight, of course. As a graduate of the USC (University of Southern California) School of Business Entrepreneurial program, Mitch keeps his pot boiling. He is ever on the lookout for new ideas as conditions change and, most importantly, as technology changes.
Probably the single most significant business partner that Mitch has is the internet. It has given 30 Minute Photos Etc. access to opportunities to develop sales channels that were previously beyond the realm of possibility for a small businessman.
How significant is the internet? “Without the internet I’d be out of business,” he said. “With it, the smallest lab owner in the country has the opportunity to compete with Shutterfly.”
The store, located in a strip center in the upscale area of Orange County, used to draw 100% of its revenue from the typical 2–3 mile radius of influence that most minilabs can relate to. Today, according to Mitch, that geography represents only about 20% of the store’s volume. “The reach of my business is now 12,500 miles in either direction.”
For example, Mitch, who is 43 and was never in military service, is a very strong supporter of our military and devotes considerable energy to that cause.
In January 2005, Mitch raised $150,000 worth of camera equipment (from a group of manufacturers) to donate to the troops in the Middle East. He has very deep feelings about the efforts of the military and said that his efforts on their behalf “is a most rewarding part of his business.”
Now, with the reach of the internet, 30 Minute Photos Etc. can do even more for the military, offering 50% discounts to any customer that orders prints to be shipped to an APO or FPO address. Mitch has been able to get his website, 30minphotos.com, linked to a variety of other websites affiliated with military organizations, and he says this opens up a market of four million subscribers—all potential customers.